The barber who loved wood carving and barbering (Exhibit)

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Most artists have day jobs at one point or another, sometimes for life. A few are lucky enough to enjoy their work as well as their art. Rarely do they achieve the symbiosis of creative and occupational activity enjoyed by Ulysses Davis (1914-1990), a Savannah, Ga., barber who whittled and carved wooden sculptures in his shop when business was slow.

In the catalog for the excellent show “The Treasure of Ulysses Davis” at the American Folk Art Museum, he is quoted as saying: “I love to barber. It’s something that keeps your mind together. If I had to choose between cutting hair and carving, I don’t know which one I would choose, because I love to cut on wood.” Art and life were inseparable and interchangeable. Sometimes Davis used his hair clippers on the wood; sometimes he gave impromptu lessons in art history to his clients in Savannah, Ga.

Davis was self-taught but savvy about the ways history crowns artists. He had visited enough museums to know that his sculptures would be most impressive if they were kept together. He rarely sold a piece, turning down many collectors. After his death his son Milton arranged for the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation in Savannah, dedicated to local African-American history, to acquire most of the sculptures.

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